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St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans Louisiana
© Philip Dyer

Established in 1718, the St. Louis Cathedral located in Jackson Square is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States.

Attractions in New Orleans, Louisiana

Sightseeing in "The Big Easy"

In New Orleans, there's something exciting to be found for every age and taste. If you don't want to go it alone, there are numerous group tours available. One might take you through the historic houses of the Garden District, while another will focus on the macabre Cities of the Dead. Whatever your interest might be, there is plenty to keep you busy.

Family Places

Young kids will love the nature-oriented sights at the Aquarium of the Americas located on the river near Jackson Square. It includes an IMAX theater and walk-through glass tunnels. The Audubon Zoo is a short distance away at the far west end of Magazine Street. The science exhibits at the Louisiana Children's Museum on Julia Street allow for hands-on science and art activities that will keep the kids busy for hours. And, for a special thrill, consider the alligator swamp tours. You can reach them via a short drive out of town where you will meet up with a riverboat that will take you to the swamps.

For just plain fun, check out the brand new Jazzland theme park that just opened in May. It includes the typical roller coaster and water rides found at most theme parks but with that special New Orleans flair. For more moderately priced activities, the City Park and Storyland near Lake Pontchartrain has an incredibly imaginative playground. While you're in the vicinity of Lake Pontchartrain, you might consider a trip across the Pontchartrain Causeway, the world's longest over-water bridge (24 miles), which goes from Metairie to Mandeville, where you can stop for lunch. There is a modest toll fee and you must be prepared to "go the distance." There's no turning back. Taking photos of the entire span is difficult unless you're airborne, so be sure to buy a few postcards to show your friends this amazing structure.

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River Tours

Both the Aquarium and the Zoo offer packages in combination with river cruises at nearby docks for a relaxing break between walking tours. The Creole Queen and Cajun Queen are docked near the Riverwalk and Jackson Square. They are old-fashioned paddle wheel boats that take you for a quick one-hour trip around the port and are equipped with restaurants so that you can have lunch while cruising. Both also offer a Dinner Jazz Cruise with cocktails, buffet and a two-hour ride past the glittering downtown skyline. The Natchez claims to be the Big Easy's only steamboat, and it also offers daytime, two-hour tours with a casual buffet and Dixieland music, as well as nighttime dinner tours.

The John James Audubon is the modern riverboat connection between the Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Zoo, which is several miles away, around the bend of the Mississippi. Aquarium/Cruise/Zoo packages are available at either place for about $52 per adult, a savings of $14.

Laura Plantation near New Orleans © Infrogmation
Located in St. James Parish on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, the Laura Plantation is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Homes

History buffs will enjoy the plantation homes tours, which originate in the city and include a bus drive to historic homes in the area. Tours are available from several companies, which will drive you on half- or full-day tours of area plantations up to 30 miles outside of the city. Some of these stately homes, such as the Laura Plantation, have been made into museums to exhibit the pre-Civil War lifestyle. Others, such as the Nottoway Plantation, have been renovated into bed-and-breakfast hotels, which creates a chance to step back two hundred years when the American South was famous for its gentle, quiet spirit.

If you'd like a shorter tour, smaller but similar homes can be found in a five block area in the Garden District, between the west end of St. Charles and Magazine Streets. More than a hundred homes have been declared historic monuments and renovated to their former glory. Here, the two story houses seem much more like fancy doll houses because of their wide porches, decorative trim, tall columns, and shady balconies all surrounded by ornate wrought iron banisters and fences.

New Orleans cemetery © Tyler Hinkle
Known for their old-world architecture, historic headstones and iron ornamentation, New Orleans' above-ground cemeteries are major tourist attractions.

Ghostly Thrills and Chills

New Orleans is one of the few places in the world where the dead can't be buried underground because of the high water table. (New Orleans is the only major American city that lies below sea level, -4 to -6 feet.) Instead they are put into tiny stone crypts that can house whole families. The cemeteries are referred to as "Cities of the Dead" and the four major ones are popular attractions. The finest example is the Metairie Cemetery, accessible from Interstate 10, is noted for its lovely old-world architecture and interesting stories. Lafayette Cemetery, on the eastern edge of the Garden District, takes you for a stroll among historic headstones. It has been the site of numerous weddings. St. Louis Cemetery, at the north end of the French Quarter, is famous for its iron ornamentation, which was fashioned by local African American artisans. It is of special interest because it is the final resting place of Marie Lavaou, the most popular voodoo queen of the late 1800s. The Cemetery/Voodoo History tour includes the haunted LaLaurie Mansion and concludes at an active voodoo temple.

Cooking Classes

If you're interested in learning how to prepare authentic New Orleans style cuisine, you might consider one of the cooking classes offered by the New Orleans Cooking School. They are fun, not too expensive (ca. $20 per person), and provide an opportunity to meet interesting people. Included in the price of the class is lunch, comprised of the foods you've watched being prepared - jambalaya, gumbo, and bread pudding - and plenty of beer with which to wash it down. And all of the ingredients needed to make the dishes at home can be purchased at the brewery.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans © Natalia Bratslavsky
Bourbon Street runs the length of the French Quarter and is home to many gentlemen's clubs, souvenir shops, restaurants and famous bars.

The Night Life

It is impossible to think of New Orleans without thinking of the French Quarter. It is the heart of nighttime fun. The Quarter starts with Harrah's Casino on Canal Street and runs 6 blocks north to south and 13 blocks east to west. The many two-story brick buildings that line the Quarter are decorated with fancy black iron balconies, and the narrow streets provide performance stages for area clowns, dancers, singers and musicians. Doorways open into fine eateries, smoky blues bars, gentlemen's clubs, or brightly-lit T-shirt, lingerie or tourist shops. Bourbon Street is the bawdiest of the Quarter, where good-natured revelers wander from bar to club, watching the lovely ladies posing in the windows. A incongruous but common sight here might be a window shade portraying a female form in silhouette placed right beside the sign of the business next door that specializes in kids' sizes. Although not a place for children, no trip to the Big Easy would be complete without an evening spent wandering around the French Quarter.

Written by: Carla Lee Suson
Top Photo Credit: Jan Kronsell
Photo Description: Bourbon Street in French Quarter of New Orleans